I do not think of dogs like other people. Many of my clients and other "canine professionals" are huge dog fans without respecting the animal as it is. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs. But that statement sounds ridiculous to me. I feel like I'm saying "I'm not a racist but…" It's one of those statements that just rings false. That makes you feel like a douchebag just saying it. (Or identifies you as a douchebag to the listener.) Though in reality nobody hearing me say "I love dogs" would see the falseness in it. I can say I love my child, I love my husband and that feels true. I can say I love pasta and I love chili and I love vegetarian pizza and I love french truffles and all of that feels true. I can even say "I love this particular dog right here". But the word "love" is both inadequate and hyperbole when attempting to describe my feelings about dogs in general.
On one hand, I am fascinated by dogs on an academic level. My academic background is Anthropology. I came to dogs through studying primates and human evolution. I minored in Biology, Botany mostly, thinking I was going to be an Ethnobotanist when I grew up, if not a Primatologist, but I also studied quite a bit of Behavioral Science as well as Psychology because it was cool and I felt it applied to Anthropology. I often joke that I wasted an awful lot of money on a degree I don't use, but I do believe strongly that that degree not only led me to dog training, but has been immensely helpful in shaping my training and behavioral modification methods. And it has shaped my relationship with dogs as a species. When I think about dogs, when I study dogs, I am thinking about them from a cultural perspective. When I train them, from the perspective of the student of Behavioral Science and Psychology. I can say I am fascinated by dogs. That would be more accurate.
I don't see dogs the way I see other animals. When folks day "Dog is man's best friend" I believe there is truth to that. I do not see dogs as mere pets. Cats, rabbits, rats, my husband's bearded dragon, these are pets. Dogs do not fall into this category. Dogs are companions. A dog takes a place in the family and household that cannot be filled by any other being. The sort of relationship one can form with a dog is also unique. It is similar to the relationship one can form with a very small child. As I have mentioned before, parenthood is somewhat like acting in the place of the Gods for small children. But as they grow, they realize our lack of divinity and embrace or reject the Gods who are really Gods. For dogs this never comes. We are their Gods from birth to death. We create their world, lay down the laws that govern their lives, have complete control over their health and well-being and as often as not, make the decision when their lives end. And unlike other animals they seem to know this. Each dog deals with this knowledge differently based on his personality and his situation. Dogs may respond to certain humans with fear and others with love or they may reject their human Gods altogether, withdrawing from us or even attacking us depending on their experience. This is not so different from the way humans respond to our Gods.
As a student of Primatology I was warned against anthropomorphism, that is, ascribing human characteristics to non-human animals, pretty early on. And that is a good warning when it comes to dealing with dogs. Dogs are not human. They are much more physically oriented, less vocal, they see things we don't, they hear things we don't. When people say "He does it for no reason." I never believe them. He did it for no human-discernible or understandable reason, but there was certainly a reason. People also complain often about things that all dogs do. Like they were going to bring a dog into their house and he wasn't going to act like a dog. By understanding that a dog is a dog, we can get at the root of a behavioral issue and find a solution that makes sense to the dog. Looking at it and tackling it from a human perspective never works. This is why I get paid.
However, taking the anti-anthropomorphism rule too far is also dangerous. It leads to attitudes that have been the result in some of the most horrific experiments in scientific history. Dissecting animals alive, poisoning them, electrocuting them, raising them in isolation to see just how crazy they go. Just a little reading about the sorts of experiments Behaviorists and Biologists have put animals through will make your skin crawl. The idea that animals don't have emotions or don't feel pain is ridiculous to anyone who has made a comparative study of human and non-human brains. The parts we have in common are those that rule emotion and sensation. It's true that their emotions and sensations are different. But saying "They don't feel pain like we do" may be true, but it doesn't mean they don't feel pain, physical and emotional.
Another danger of over applying the anti-anthropomorphism rule is denying the "personhood" of a non-human animal. That is their individuality. I tell my kids that anything with a personality is a person. So, dogs are people to. If there's anything I've learned as a dog trainer it's that every dog is unique. This has been a challenge in my career, it would be a lot easier if every dog's personality was a carbon copy of the next, but it would also be a lot less interesting. If this were the case, I think I would have had to find a new line of work to keep from going crazy from boredom.
Many people have romantic notions of dogs, owners and trainers alike.
The first is the romantic notion of the dog in the wild. I don't know how many canine professionals I have met who think that focusing on wolf behavior is the key to training dogs. How many of these people have tried to train wolves, I don't know. (Since they are still alive, I'd say probably not most of them.) There is no denying the allure of the wolf. Many Pagans feel a connection to wolves and so surely can relate. And it is true that dogs descended from wolves, just as we descended from an ape-like ancestor. Yes, studying wolf behavior is helpful in understanding dog behavior, just as studying ape behavior is helpful in understanding human behavior but only to a certain degree. I believe that dogs have been dogs quite nearly as long as we've been human which means dogs have NOT been wolves nearly as long as we've NOT been apes. Therefore, dogs must be approached as dogs, not wolves as much as humans must be approached as humans, not apes. And as far as the idea of the dog in the wild goes… dogs are domestic animals. Perhaps the most domestic of all animals.
Another romantic notion is somewhat the opposite. It is the idea of the noble dog. When I tell folks that I prefer the company of dogs to people I often get a response that sounds something like this: Oh dogs are so unconditional. They don't judge you. They don't like or cheat. They are always loyal. They always return kindness with kindness… Obviously these people don't know many dogs personally. Dogs are sneaky. They do steal. They fully understand the concept of deceit and make use of it at every opportunity (depending on their personality, of course.) Their relationship with you can change completely if you go away for awhile, if you move them to a new household, if someone else moves into your household, if you begin behaving differently… there are many possibilities. A dog may decide at a glance that he does not like some person or another dog for no reason that a human can discern. Dogs are absolutely fascinating! And denying them the full gamut of personality that comes from both positive and negative traits does them no service at all.
So why do I prefer the dogs to people? Honestly, as I really dig deep I might be a little bit ashamed to admit the reason. But I'm going to anyway. Dogs make me feel good about myself. They make me feel clever and powerful and in control. Whatever I want them to do, I can eventually convince them to do it if they are resistant. And if they aren't, they act like I just had the best idea in the whole world. I also understand them pretty well and can predict their behavior with about 75% accuracy and whenever I'm wrong it's almost always funny. The reason I enjoy dogs isn't because of something inherent in dogs. It's something inherent in me. Some need that they fulfill. Dogs make me laugh and when they test my patience, they make me feel proud of my ability to put up with their bullshit. They also make me feel special because I can see what others can't in them. It's like an occult knowledge. It's probably what I like about witchcraft.
And that leads me to looking at Dogs from a Pagan spiritual perspective. Wow, this is going to be a long post.
As I already mentioned, dogs were the first domesticated animals. They have been with us from nearly the beginning. Dogs feature in several Pagan creation myths.
According to a Mongolian creation myth, the creator God, Ulgen Tenger created dogs to watch over the freshly molded bodies of humans while they dried. But dog was tempted away by the God of the Underworld, Erleg Khan, who offered him a beautiful coat so that he could curse the bodies with mortality and disease. When Ulgen Tenger returned and saw his creations unguarded, he cursed Dog so that his coat would be smelly and so that he would always be a servant to humans and rely upon them for his food.
According to pre-Islamic Persian myth, dogs were created to protect men from wolves and they are one third human. (An Islamic myth from the same area says that when Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise, dogs were created to protect them from the wild animals of the world.) Dogs were used during funerary rites as it was believed they could see the spirit leave the body
A Chippewa tale tells of a dog who morphed into a human man who became the father of all the Chippewa people. Dogs are mentioned in the creation myths of the Apache, Lenape and other Native American Nations.
Dogs are not only the companions of humans in myth, but also Gods. In Greek myth, that which I am most familiar, they are companions to Artemis, the Goddess who stands between Wilderness and Civilization and Hecate, the Goddess who stands between Life and Death. Dogs are liminal beings. They exist between wilderness and civilization, the spiritual and the material. They can communicate with wolves, coyotes and humans. They can see spirits and, according to some, read minds (I believe they are just really good at picking up subtleties.)
I have always felt that dogs make the best familiars. I know most witches prefer cats, but I simply can't connect with them. My dog is gone and I haven't gotten a new one yet. But when I had a dog, I felt I could communicate with him on the most subtle level. He was always watching for cues, ready to leap into action. He protected me before I knew I needed protection. He knew what I wanted/needed before I did in some cases. I can't imagine developing a relationship like that with any other material being.
I think that's all I have to say on the subject at this time. I could say much more but I need to get on with my day. I have thought about writing a book on the subject. I would call it The Witch's Hound. But, I don't have time for the research required at this time. Maybe in a few years it will be my Heart Day Resolution. Here's me, making a note to myself about that.
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